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Sterling Supply Marks 60 Years In Business

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For the State-Journal

HUNTINGTON – In 1953, when a small group of former Houdaille Hershey employees set up their new business venture, they had three items in their inventory and two employees. Today, as Sterling Supply Co., the company they founded, celebrates its 60th anniversary, it has an inventory of 10,000 products and 14 employees.

Sterling Supply's 10,000-square-foot warehouse at 850 West 7th St. is a one-stop supplier for companies that work with metal or depend on metal machinery or equipment. It serves customers within a 60-mile radius of Huntington, said President John E. Zitter. A sister company, Sterling Industrial Products, is located at 1037 Central Ave. in Charleston.

"Putting it in a nutshell, what we do is sell things that grind metal, cut metal and measure metal," Zitter said.

The group that founded the company included John Zitter's father, Jack Zitter, along with Huntington businessmen Andy Houvouras and Leo DiPiero. Jack Zitter ran the company, and when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1972, his widow, Regina "Jerry" Zitter stepped in to take his place.

"It was really a challenge for mom," recalled John Zitter. "Her training was in nursing and she knew nothing about the company other than what she and dad had discussed over the breakfast table. And, of course, in the 1970s it was still novel to see a woman running a business. But she threw herself into it, quickly learned what she needed to know and proved more than equal to the challenge." Not long after taking over management of the company she bought out the other partners.

John Zitter started working odd jobs at the warehouse as a boy, then joined the company full time in 1978. He took over as president when his mother died at age 83 in 2000.

A brother, Bill Zitter, is vice president. He joined the company after retiring as an emergency room physician at Cabell Huntington Hospital. Another brother, Tom, who lives in the Dayton, Ohio, area, is an equal partner in the business.

John Zitter noted that when the company began in 1953, its biggest customers were the Houdaille, Owens-Illinois and ACF Industries.

"Houdaille, Owens and ACF are gone now, but we're still here," he said. "I think we've been able to not just survive but thrive by constantly working to adapt to the changing economy, expand our customer base and strive to provide the best value and service possible. As we observe our 60th anniversary, we feel blessed to have the finest and most knowledgeable employees we have ever had. We look forward to serving our customers for the next 60 years and beyond."

Sterling Supply specializes in abrasives and cutting tools, but it also carries a wide range of items for the machining industry.

"Abrasives and cutting tools each account for roughly 40 percent of our business, with everything else amounting to 20 percent," Zitter said. "Norton Company, which acquired Behr Manning many years ago, is our largest vendor. Our major carbide cutting tool manufacturer is Sandvik Coromant."

Today, Sterling's biggest customers Special Metals, Steel of West Virginia and Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia.

In a message congratulating the company on its 60th anniversary, Toyota wrote: "Suppliers such as Sterling Supply Company are part of the reason our Buffalo plant recently accomplished the milestone of producing 10 Million Quality products. We couldn't have done this without your help and support."